A new government report on safety violations at nuclear power plants shows that four of the nation’s worst facilities (in terms of higher level violations) are located on the shores of the Great Lakes.
The report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, revealed several problems with how the Nuclear Regulatory Commission enforces safety regulations at the nation’s aging fleet of nuclear power plants. The Associated Press, which broke the story, said the GAO study ”showed that the number of safety violations at nuclear power plants varies dramatically from region to region, pointing to inconsistent enforcement in an industry now operating mostly beyond its original 40-year licenses. Read the entire AP story here.
Most alarming for those of us in the Great Lakes region was the GAO’s disclosure that four of the six nuclear power plants with the most “higher level violations” between 2000 and 2012 are located on the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Erie. They are: The Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Oak Harbor, Ohio, which had 14 higher level violations; the recently closed Kewaunee Power Station in Kewaunee, Wis., with nine violations; the Perry Nuclear Generating Station in Perry, Ohio, eight violations; and the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in Covert, Mich., which had eight higher level violations, according to the GAO report.
These findings are disturbing for obvious reasons: The four troubled nuclear power plants are located on the largest source of surface freshwater on the planet. More than 30 million people rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water and the lakes support one of the world’s largest regional economies.
Some violations have resulted in radioactive water being discharged into the Great Lakes and the air.
Earlier this year, a leaky tank at the Palisades facility in West Michigan spilled 79 gallons of radioactive water into Lake Michigan. That followed a 2011 incident in which an unplanned shutdown at Palisades resulted in the radioactive tritium being released into the air. Federal officials said neither incident posed health risks.
Concerns about nuclear power plants on the Great Lakes are not limited to Lake Michigan and Lake Erie. There are 38 operating nuclear power plants in the Great Lakes basin, according to a map produced by the International Institute of Concern for Public Health.
And there’s this: A Canadian utility is seeking approval to bury 200,000 cubic meters of low and intermediate level radioactive waste near Lake Huron. Ontario Power Generation says burying nuclear waste in dense rock deposits near Lake Huron poses no threats to the lake.
Conservation groups and some Michigan lawmakers are fighting the proposed nuclear waste dump near Kincardine, Ontario. Read more about that here.
We’ve been told for decades that nuclear power is a clean and safe source of electricity. Industry officials have long argued that concerns about the safety of nuclear power plants are wildly exaggerated.
Granted, most nuclear power plants in the U.S. have operated for decades without major incidents. The problem is that when things go awry at nuclear power plants (often due to unforeseen circumstances) the results are often catastrophic. That became painfully evident when a tsunami wiped out the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan.
Of course, nothing like the Fukushima disaster could ever happen at any of the nuclear power plants that line the Great Lakes. That’s what the nuclear power industry wants us to believe. We can only hope that such predictions are correct.